Beauty Industry Problems – Make up a Radiant Recycling Plan to Reduce Waste

Peel back the glamorous outer layer and it reveals a few problems in the beauty industry. One of the main ones is the huge amount of waste the sector generates and what happens to it. For starters, the global beauty industry creates 120 billion bits of packaging every year, which all end up as waste.

Nail bars, hair salons, and beauty parlours all produce high volumes and wide ranges of rubbish. Then there’s the waste from makeup containers, cosmetics, and personal care items used at home. Manufacturers, beauty businesses, and consumers all need to act to improve the sustainability of looking stunning by recycling and reducing waste.

Discover all about the beauty industry’s problems with waste, how to create an effective recycling plan for your beauty business, and ways to responsibly dispose of cosmetics and their containers as a consumer in this guide.

box of makeup creams and jars.

Waste problems in the beauty industry

The beauty industry relies on various products and practices to rejuvenate skin, hair, and other areas. A professional pampering or personal treatment at home creates all sorts of waste items, from makeup brushes to swabs, strips, wipes, and cosmetics containers. It’s estimated between 20 and 40% of beauty products end up as waste.

Waste is a big problem for the beauty industry due to its volume and the types of waste materials it generates:

  • Packaging – the primary problem for the beauty industry in terms of waste is packaging, which accounts for 70% of the sector’s waste. According to the British Beauty Council, 95% of cosmetic packaging is thrown away. While some of this is recyclable, unfortunately plenty isn’t recycled and may end up in landfill.
  • Chemical waste – many beauty products contain synthetic chemicals like parabens and phthalates. These don’t break down in landfills, can leach and pollute nearby water and add to pollution levels. Responsible chemical waste storage and disposal is vital for every beauty business.
  • Unused, unsold, and expired products – one cause of waste in the beauty industry is simply products that aren’t used. This could be if they’re unpopular and don’t sell well by retailers, aren’t used (like an unwanted gift), or expire due to poor stock control.
  • Formula testers – to ensure many types of beauty products are safe and effective they must undergo strict testing. This process can create waste in the form of formula testers. It’s an issue for manufacturers as the testers are contaminated with the product so can’t be recycled.
  • Water use and waste – it’s estimated that the cosmetics industry uses 78 billion litres of water annually to create products. For example, between 60 and 85% of a cream product is water. There are big risks of pollution through improper treatment and use of this water, so safe management is essential.

There are other environmental problems in the beauty industry, such as the use of palm oil, a big carbon footprint from the transportation of materials and products around the world, and animal testing.

How to create a recycling plan 
for your beauty business

Every kind of business that operates in the beauty industry needs an effective waste management plan in place. This helps reduce your organisation’s environmental impact and save money on waste disposal costs by recycling more and requiring fewer bin collections. Use the following tips to make up an efficient recycling plan for your beauty business.

Audit your beauty business

Start by reviewing your current waste management practices. This should include the types and amount of waste your business creates, where it’s stored, and the disposal method. Any aesthetics waste, chemical waste, or hazardous materials must be stored safely on your site before removal.

Review the results of your audit and the current bins you use to see if there are any areas where you’re throwing out recyclable rubbish with general waste – such as cardboard packaging or glass containers. If so, you should consider adding a dry mixed recycling or cardboard recycling bin to your waste services.

Consider any areas where you create high levels of waste and try to work out why this is. It could be poor working practices, an ordering error, or something else. There might be ways to cut this down, which may also reduce the number of bins and collections you need to lower your waste management costs.

How to conduct a waste audit
eye shadow and lipstick and mascara pen.

Provide a makeup recycling program

Some types of makeup packaging are trickier to recycle than others and aren’t accepted in many domestic recycling bins. It’s mainly due to the materials and contamination risks. This includes items like plastic eyeshadow palettes, mascara/eye shadow tubes, eyeliner pens, face cream pots, and face mask packaging.

As a beauty business, you can help the environment and consumers by offering a makeup recycling program. Some retailers already provide a take-back scheme for beauty packaging. Doing so demonstrates your organisation’s eco-credentials and helps get customers through the door who may then be likelier to use your other services.

Use sustainable cosmetics suppliers

Try to use, buy, and sell products with as little packaging as possible – or items that at least come in recyclable and eco-friendly packaging. A greater focus on the issues the beauty industry faces with packaging waste means more manufacturers are working to produce products with little or recyclable packaging.

Those in packaging made from recycled materials are also more sustainable. Avoid products in plastic packaging where possible, as this is often harder to recycle. Use items in cardboard, paper, and glass packaging and buy in bulk to reduce resources. Some manufacturers may offer a recycling take-back program too.

Improve inventory management and stock rotation

One cause of waste for beauty businesses is products expiring before they’re used or sold. Maintain an updated inventory and rotate stock (use the first in first out process) to avoid items going out of date. This is important whether you’re looking to reduce waste in a hair salon, tattoo parlour, shop, or beauty salon.

Make sure all products are stored in appropriate places and conditions to prevent the likes of creams and cosmetics from getting too warm or cold and spoiling. If you end up with some items close to their expiry date consider selling them at a reduced price to customers. This should mean less is wasted.

Inform staff and customers about recycling solutions

Put in place a recycling policy for your beauty business. Train your employees to follow clear steps to recycle rubbish and dispose of waste properly – especially any chemical waste. Highlight the importance of recycling to help the environment and the positive impact it can have on business costs.

Inform customers if your business offers a take-back scheme to encourage them to return cosmetics packaging. If not, tell them about any other available recycling schemes where they can dispose of any products you sell or supply. Ensure signs and directions are clear to reduce the risk of contamination.

How can consumers recycle cosmetics?

It’s not just businesses that generate waste in the beauty industry. Once products are sold or supplied to consumers the responsibility of what happens to the goods and packaging is in their smooth hands. Responsible use and disposal of cosmetics waste is essential. Use the following tips for ways to recycle beauty products you use at home.

How to recycle makeup

Makeup recycling is an easy way to reduce waste, whether you’re getting rid of unwanted lipstick or an empty face cream tub. Recycling unused or used products is possible in various ways. Never pour makeup down the sink or a drain though, as the chemicals may then enter waterways and damage the environment.

These are a few ideas for ways to recycle old makeup:

  • Pass on products – if you’ve got some half-used makeup items you no longer want, consider passing them on to a friend or family member who might use them. Maybe the eye shadow colour isn’t quite right, or the skin cream caused a reaction – it’s better if someone else finishes using it rather than it going in the bin.
  • Donate to a charity – many charity shops might accept makeup products if they’re unopened, in date, and intact to sell and support their cause. There are also women’s charities that can redistribute items to help those in need.
  • Sell items online – you could raise a bit of money by selling unwanted makeup products online through sites such as Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, and Vinted. Ensure they’re in date and decent condition.
  • Recycle makeup packaging at home – you can recycle cardboard and paper packaging from makeup products in most domestic recycling bins, bags, or containers. Check with your local authority as some accept certain types of plastic waste too. Ensure they’re clean and dry before throwing them away. You can take clean and dry glass makeup jars or pots to bottle banks too.
  • Use a take-back scheme – many healthcare shops and beauty retailers have containers where you can return empty or partly empty makeup containers when you’re finished with them. This ensures everything is disposed of responsibly.
eye shadow palette with brushes.

Where to recycle makeup

There are many beauty recycling drop-off points in shops across the UK where you can recycle makeup. Various brands and retailers are working with waste management companies to provide bins in-store where customers can drop off old makeup that’s then removed and recycled. Some of the main retailers where you can recycle makeup in the UK include:

  • Boots
  • Superdrug
  • Tesco
  • Sainsbury’s
  • Kiehl’s
  • John Lewis

Can you recycle makeup containers?

Recycling makeup containers is possible, but the right method depends on the type of material. To recycle a makeup container of any kind you must first clean it out and remove any remaining product to avoid contamination. Then you can either recycle it in your household recycling bin, take it to a household waste recycling centre (HWRC), or drop-off point.

In most cases, you can recycle makeup containers made of cardboard or some types of plastic in your domestic recycling bin. Check the plastic recycling number and symbol and whether your local authority accepts it in their collections first. For any glass makeup containers you can usually take them to a glass bottle bank as long as they’re clean and dry.

Ways to reduce cosmetic waste 
as a consumer

Consumers can help reduce waste in the beauty industry by recycling cosmetics and changing behaviours for a more sustainable future. Here are a few ways to buy and use beauty products in a way that will hopefully create less waste:

  • Choose cosmetics in recyclable packaging – purchasing creams, conditioners, and other beauty products in glass bottles and jars is better than plastic. This is because glass is easier to recycle and infinitely recyclable.
  • Buy beauty products with less packaging – look for beauty products that come with little or no packaging. Buying a bar of soap in a paper wrapper creates less waste than a plastic bottle of shower gel, for example.
  • Recycle beauty products in-store – clean out empty beauty products and return the containers to drop-off points offered by retailers to ensure they’re disposed of properly.

Find more information on our page about managing beauty salon waste.

Or explore more expert guides about reducing waste of many other materials.

woman having a face mask applied.
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